The Nickelodeon show “Ni Hao, Kai-lan” is currently in its second season. “Ni Hao, Kai-lan” is like a Chinese analog of “Dora the Explorer,” and both of my daughters love to watch it. I had the opportunity to interview 13-year-old Jade-Lianna Peters, who does the voice of Kai-lan. I let my older daughter ask the first question.
Ridley: Why do you speak English and Chinese?
Jade-Lianna Peters: Well, English is my first language, because I came here when I was only 8 months and my parents are American. So they taught me English and so I didn’t know much Chinese. But when I got the part of Kai-lan I started, and I practiced really hard to start knowing the language better, so that I could be Kai-lan and know Kai-lan’s part even better for knowing Chinese. So, I know more English than Chinese, but one day I hope I can speak fluent Mandarin.
(I continued the rest of the interview myself.)
GeekDad: I know you had to record a lot of the lines for the show before it actually started airing. When did you actually get the part as Kai-lan, and when did you start working on the show?
JLP: When I was in fourth grade, when I was nine, I got an audition and so I went to Chicago and I auditioned, and then they liked me. So, then two more auditions, and I got the part! And this was toward the end of fourth grade, almost when I was ten. But then when I was ten and a half, I started actually recording the show. For the first two episodes, they flew me out to L.A. So, about four years ago.
GD: Have you gotten to meet some of the other voice actors, the people who play YeYe, and Rintoo, and all the others?
JLP: I’ve met every character except for YeYe. I think the grandpa lives in New York. I never met him, but I did meet Rinto, Lulu, Hoho, and Tolee.
GD: That’s kinda neat.
JLP: Yeah, it was really fun, they’re all really nice.
GD: All the other voices are all kids, right? I mean, I know YeYe’s a grownup.
JLP: Yeah, they’re all children. Lulu is I think 12, Rintoo’s 11 and Tolee’s 11, and Hoho is 6.
GD: I was going to ask you but I can tell by listening: I was wondering if you use your regular speaking voice when you do Kai-lan’s voice.
JLP: I kinda do, but when I’m more excited my voice kind of goes a little higher. And Kai-lan’s always excited, so, just a little bit higher in register. But, yeah, I use my normal voice.
GD: What’s your favorite thing about being on the show?
JLP: My favorite thing about being Kai-lan is learning the Chinese, because learning another language is a good learning experience. Also I really wanted to learn my language, and in these circumstances it’s really fun. But even though it’s my favorite thing, it’s also the most challenging. Because, you know, there’s four tones. When you say a word, if you use the wrong tone, it means something else. So it’s a little challenging to remember which word is what tone, but I’m getting the hang of it as we go.
GD: Do you study Chinese at school or mostly just for the show?
JLP: I have a Chinese teacher at school, and I do it every day. It’s for an hour a day, and I also do it at home too, sometimes.
GD: And I know you’ve got a little sister, who’s also from China …
JLP: Yeah, her name’s Alexis-Mariah.
GD: … do you guys speak Chinese at home, to each other?
JLP: Well, sometimes. Right now I’m a little more advanced than her but I’m helping her with her Chinese so she can get better too.
GD: That’s great. I’m Chinese, and my wife is American, so I speak Chinese to my kids. But that’s something that I know I hope they do too. If they speak Chinese to each other, they get a lot more practice. Have you gotten to visit China?
JLP: Well, I was adopted in China, and I went when I was four years old back to China, to get my sister. But since I was four, I don’t really remember anything. I really do want to go back though. I want to sight-see of course, and go back to the orphange that I was from, and make sure they’re taking care of them well and that they all find a loving family. I hope I’m fortunate one day to go back.
GD: That’s really great. I think you would enjoy it if you got a chance to go. And you really get a chance to experience the language differently when you go to China than when you’re learning it in the United States, too. What grade are you in now?
JLP: I’m in ninth grade, at the Milwaukee School of Languages.
GD: What’s your favorite subject there?
JLP: My favorite subject I think would be math. I also like science, though.
GD: What type of science do you like?
JLP: Well, right now I’m in biology and we’re learning about cells, and what’s all in them, but I like all science. It’s fun to learn more about nature. Whatever I learn in science, I’m happy.
GD: That’s great. Do you have any thoughts on what you want to do when you grow up?
JLP: When I grow up I either want to continue my acting, because I really like acting, and it’s a way to express myself. Or, if that doesn’t work, I also want to be a doctor … a heart doctor? Yeah.
GD: All right. It takes a lot of work to be a doctor, but it’s a really good thing to do, too. And if you pay lots of attention in biology, that’ll help too.
JLP: Yeah, I agree.
GD: Do you ever get recognized—probably people in your neighborhood already know who you are—but do you ever go anywhere else, and people recognize that you’re the voice of Kai-lan?
JLP: Yeah, sometimes, because there were articles in the newspaper for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and stuff like magazines, stuff like that. Some people notice it. And also, on Nickelodeon, there are promos where there’s like a video of me recording, and then there’s a picture of Kai-lan. So, some people notice it. My mom also tells other people about it and then they’re like, “Oh, I read about that in the paper.” And some people just stand there: “Hmmm, I dunno, is that her?” All of my neighbors know about it. Oh, and when I was in Washington, we went to this store and this little girl kept staring me and she started saying “Kai-lan! Kai-lan!” And her mom didn’t speak much English. She knew Spanish, and my mom was trying to tell her that I’m the voice of Kai-lan and that her daughter recognized it. And so my mom took her to the Toys R Us and showed her the Kai-lan doll, and then she understood. She got the girl a little doll. It was sweet.
GD: That’s really neat. Do you have any hobbies you like to do?
JLP: Well, I’m on a swimming team, and I also play guitar, violin and piano, and i do those in my spare time. And I also like to read, and playing with my puppy! Her name’s Kai-lan. Yeah, we named her after the show, obviously. We called the creator of the show. We asked her if we could name our dog after her and she was really honored, and she said yes. So we have a doggy named Kai-lan, and we have a dog named Sunshine.
GD: So do you get much free time? It sounds like you keep pretty busy.
JLP: I do have free time during the weekends and stuff. And I like to spend time with friends and my family.
GD: Well, is there anything else you’d like to share with people who read our website?
JLP: Yeah! Hopefully that everybody keeps watching Kai-lan, and they’re learning more Chinese and more of the culture. And, that even though Chinese is really hard to learn, learning another language is good in the long run. And, keep trying no matter what! That’s all.
GD: One more thing: since we’ve been talking about Kai-lan and speaking Chinese, I think we could have something from one of the shows, maybe.
JLP: Sure, I’ll try! Ni rang wo hao kai xing! Zai jian! It means: “You make my heart feel super happy! Bye-bye!” Yeah, that’s what Kai-lan says at the end of every show.
GD: All right, well, it’s been really fun talking to you!
JLP: You too!
GD: And I wish you good luck with the show and with learning more Chinese, and everything else that you’re interested in.
JLP: Thank you!
GD: All right. Zai jian!
JLP: Zai jian!
Stay tuned for a look at the show itself, as well as some new Kai-lan toys and games that debuted this fall.
Kai-lan image and Jade-Lianna photo courtesy of Nickelodeon; used with permission.